The good, bad and ugly of growing up on a farm

I grew up on a farm.

  • Monday, December 19, 2011 11:02am
  • Life

I grew up on a farm.

When I was actually growing up, that was something I would have never admitted.

You may wonder why I would be embarrassed by my farm life, but the truth is that being a farm kid made me different and, like many kids, I just wanted to fit in.

I grew up on a relatively small farm of 120 acres just outside of Olympia, and while many of my school mates grew up in rural areas as well, their version of “rural” really just meant that they had a couple acres around their house that made for a good area to play tag. Mine, however, could host a couple football games — at least during seasons when we weren’t growing hay.

Yep, our farm was a working farm. Growing up for me meant that life was vastly different then my counterparts. Sure, they had weekly chores like cleaning their rooms or caring for the dog. So did I. But then there were the farm chores.

I fed the cows, the horses, the llamas and the chickens, just to name a few.

On the other hand, since I was interested in riding horses, after a couple years of lessons, my family built a new barn for the horses and I got my first horse in fourth grade. Of course, that also meant even more chores, such as mucking out paddocks, feeding and cleaning tack, but those were all worth it.

I also had a flock of chickens when I was about 6 years old. Lording over the baby chicks was an orphan duck named Daffy (I really wasn’t that creative as a child). Unfortunately, a coyote liked Daffy just as much as I did. I think my mom and dad told me his parents came back for him. (I was gullible too. I even believed the pet turtle ran away.)

I grew to love weekdays. It wasn’t that I loved school so much, but weekends meant projects and chores no matter what the weather.

In the winter, it meant chopping wood and hauling it to a shed to dry out, then taking the wood that had been drying down to either our basement or the basement of my grandparents’ house next door.

While I loved thunder and lighting storms, I always knew that the next weekend would involve picking up all the fallen trees and branches in the woods. And there were acres of woods.

Then there were the PROJECTS. Those plans that my dad came up with that in the long run made farm life a lot easier, such as more barns to store the new machinery or store more firewood. I think I am the only one of my friends who knows how to put a metal roof on a barn. Which, by the way, when you are afraid of heights, is terrifying! In my life I have helped build four barns — and not those little dinky ones you buy at the home improvement store. These ones stored tractors, farm equipment and hay. Lots of hay.

Summers meant haying season. Somewhere between one third and one half of the farm is hay fields. Every summer, when there was a stretch of hot weather, the hay fields got chopped down with the mower, then tedded (a machine that fluffs, flips and stirs up the hay). Then it was raked and baled. A vast majority of the hay was sold. Our hay was excellent, so our customer list always included a huge waiting list of people wanting to buy some. However, each year a few thousand bales had to be put up in our barns for the cows, horses and llamas. (Don’t ask about the llamas, they were my grandpa’s idea. When my brother was 5 years old, he was accidently run over by one of them — Gizmo — and no one really liked them so much after that. My cousin asked my brother shortly after that if he ever wanted to pet them anymore. His reply, “Yeah I want to pet him — with a baseball bat.”)

Putting the hay up in the barns was a pain. A hot, sweaty pain in the-you-know-what. When I was really little (about 5) I would roll the bales of hay out of the way of the tractor and wagon while the adults put anywhere from 80-100 bales on the wagon. Once I hit about 8 I started driving the tractor. Unfortunately, one of my first times I was going downhill slightly and got the clutch and the brake confused, causing the load of hay behind me to push the tractor faster and faster toward one of the barns. My dad jumped up and stopped the tractor (in reality it never went faster than 10 miles an hour) and stopped well short of the barns, but I refused to get back on the tractor for the rest of that season.

Putting up 500 bales of hay in 90 degree weather and then going up to the top of the barn where the hay was stored to stack it, while the dust and hay swirled around and the room was at least 15 degrees warmer? Not fun. Drinking the lemonade and eating brownies was our tradition after each load, and that went a long way for making up for it.

As I got older though, living on the farm became cooler and cooler.

The DesChutes River went through the farm (if you have ever had Olympia beer before, the logo portraying a waterfall sits a mile or so downstream from my family’s farm). So, summer meant friends over, once we had driver licenses, with swimming, volleyball and horseback rides. My place was suddenly the cool place to go. Still, not many people knew I lived on a farm outside of my group of friends.

Growing up on a farm meant that I missed out on a lot of normal childhood things. I never really had neighborhood kids around, never went door to door in my neighborhood trick-or-treating and I was never really one of those kids who just went to the mall to hang out. We lived down such a long driveway that until I left for college I had never had a house key. (We figured if they were going all the way down the driveway they would just break a window.)

Looking back now, I see that I gained so much. I grew up seeing all sorts of animals. I had plenty of room to run around and I know more about constructing and building things than most girls.

Growing up, I couldn’t wait to leave the farm and live in a city. Now, I wait for weekend trips home to the farm.

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